Starry Night: Late July — The Capricornid meteor showers

Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2012 in Features

Starry Night: Late July — The Capricornid meteor showers

by Tristan Radtke

Late July plays host to the Alpha Capricornid meteor shower, a relatively calm storm expected to bring a peak of about two to five meteors per hour to our early morning sky. The shower will peak on July 30 around 1:30 a.m., with the meteors appearing from the east within the constellation Capricorn. While this shower is relatively calm, particularly for Northern Hemisphere viewers, the shower is relatively new and the cloud of debris from which it emanates has not yet reached the planet’s atmosphere. It is expected that this shower will grow to a major shower, greater than any currently, by 2200-2420 according to this article on the shower from the Astronomical Journal.

The better known Delta Capricornids are mainly a Southern Hemisphere event, but will also bring about four meteors per hour to the Northern Hemisphere, ending around the end of August. Both showers will emanate from the same region of our night sky and around the same time of evening, at about midnight for the Delta Capricornids.

The Stars

An otherwise unknown zodiacal constellation is up in the mid-evening sky right now. It is Ophiuchus, the Doctor. It lies on the ecliptic plane, through which the sun, moon, and all the planets pass, which is why it is technically a zodiac constellation, but it is not one of the familiar 12. You won't hear anyone proclaim their sunsign as Ophiuchus. 

Ophiuchus was a medical man in ancient Greek mythology, and he was very good at his job. Also known as Asclepius, he is portrayed holding one or two serpents on a stick, which has become the medical symbol to this day. When Orion was dallying with Artemis, twin sister to Apollo (it was a platonic situation, but Apollo didn't know that), he caused a scorpion to sting Orion on the heel. Ophiuchus saved his life and crushed the scorpion (which is below his "feet" in the sky) and later boasted that he could keep all mortals alive forever. Zeus killed him with a thunderbolt, but Artemis begged her father to place him in the sky since he saved her friend. And there he is.

The Planets

• Mercury: On July 15, Mercury  set just after sunset, at around 8:45 p.m. On July 31, Mercury will be lost in the glare of the sun, moving further towards the early morning sky.

• Venus: In mid-July, Venus and Jupiter are bright morning stars rising closely to one another, with Venus rising at about 2:45 a.m. By the end of the month, Jupiter and Venus will have separated a bit, with Venus rising around 2:15 a.m.

• Mars: On July 15, Mars set around 11:30 p.m. By the end of the month, Mars will set at around 10:30 p.m. in proximity to Saturn and a bright Spica.

• Jupiter: Jupiter rose around 2:15 a.m. on July 15. Jupiter will rise at 1 a.m. on July 31.

• Saturn: On July 15, Saturn  set around midnight. By the end of the month, Saturn will set around 11 p.m.

• Uranus: On July 15, Uranus rose around 11:15 p.m. On July 31, Uranus will rise at 10:30 p.m.

• Neptune: On July 15, Neptune rose at 10 p.m. By month’s end, Neptune will rise just behind the sunset around 8 p.m.

• Pluto: On July 15, Pluto rose at 7 p.m. By month’s end it will have moved earlier into the afternoon, rising before sunset at around 6 p.m.

The Moon

The moon waned to third quarter on July 10. The moon reached its new phase today, July 18, and will begin to wax, reaching first quarter on July 26 and nearly full on July 31.

Special Events

There have been several solar flares (known as coronal mass ejections) that could cause aurorae to be seen at our latitude. Check the sky frequently after dark!

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